Pulled by different forces, women in medicine need to stand by their career and family choices

Women won the most medals US at the Olympic Games in Rio . Hillary Clinton makes it hard to become the country’s first female president campaign. This may suggest that we have finally reached the finish line and the mythical “have it all” goal of the feminist movement. Even President Obama, a father of two girls, had something to add to the conversation in his recent article “This is what a feminist looks like” .

But do not feel like you have arrived or that the proverbial glass ceiling has been shattered. The role of women in the home and work remains highly politicized and full of stereotypes. This tension plays out in a unique way in academic medicine, including pediatrics, where women make up more than 57 percent of pediatricians and 70 percent of pediatric residents.

Despite their numbers, women hold a minority of positions. In all academic fields, 14 percent of department heads are women. In pediatrics, with a higher percentage of medical, only 25 percent are women. Access to medical school is not the problem. Currently, women constitute 48 percent of students in medical school in the United States.

Experts have attributed this disparity to a variety of factors. These include a voluntary withdrawal medicine (including academic medicine) or leadership positions, differences in inherent power and stereotypes that lead to reduced opportunities for leadership, and biological factors and household responsibilities that foster the perception of dedication decreased. Women are entering academic medicine, but they are not stay long enough to reach leadership positions.

As a pediatric cardiologist and a developmental pediatrician who are interested both in academic medicine, we believe that all contribute to the problem.

We were raised by mothers and grandmothers who encouraged us to believe that we could be anything we wanted and could “do it all.” We benefit from the sacrifices of the women who came before us and fought for equal rights at home and at work.

As we progress in our careers and personal lives, however, the reality of what we are experiencing is contrary to the messages of previous generations. Messages today for women – in what they read and in their daily interactions at work – are confused, full of judgment and confusing

Medical “can not have everything,” Dr. . Karen Siebert once wrote in The New York Times . “Medicine should not be a part-time interest to be set aside if it becomes an inconvenience that deserves to be the work of a lifetime,” he said. We (and those who have supported us along the way) voluntarily make emotional, physical, and financial sacrifices to become doctors. But we can also choose to take a step back to form a family. Neither are insignificant decisions. But it should not be one that is judged – implicitly or explicitly -. For others who do not understand individual journey of each person

Anne-Marie Slaughter generate a national conversation about this phenomenon in his essay of 2012 Atlantic , which describes the journey of raising a teenager while a demanding position as the first woman director of policy planning in the United States Department of State is maintained. She argued that equal opportunities for women at work does not exist. In fact, it can not exist without significant changes in policies that support work-life balance.

Women are judged if they are removed too long at work. They are also punished if not taken enough off. Take the case of Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo, which was criticized in the media this spring not to take a “proper” amount of maternity leave and returning to his position of great power too soon.

Undoubtedly, women have made significant strides toward equality in medicine. Men also struggle with balance of its functions as parents and doctors. Navigating the work and life is difficult for women and for men. Both make personal decisions to leave medicine or decrease the time spent in practice for many reasons, and these reasons are right for them. Perhaps a legacy of the women’s movement is the opportunity to choose how we build our lives with work and family.

These options create a new reality for women is an amalgamation of work and personal lives, not one or the other phenomenon. Like the practice of medicine involves taking difficult decisions when clinical results are uncertain, so does the picture that emerges of what women can be in medicine.

Women should be informed early that they will need to make sacrifices in every part of their lives to create that difficult balance to achieve. And that’s fine. This does not mean you are doing something wrong, but do something necessary.


Women have their own stages of development. Some are on our careers, others are on the care of others. Some stages of life are on both at the same time. We must have the freedom to choose and not fight ourselves going from one to another, or the decision to stay.

most of all we need to stand behind our options – to work, stay at home, have a family, do not have a family, to do both – and not having to carry regretfully or distress. Support each other in the execution of these options should be the next mission of women in medicine, and the workplace in general. Only this state of mind and an open and honest dialogue we can deal with existing inequalities and lack of female leadership in medicine and encourage women to stay in the game.

Angira Patel, MD, is a pediatric cardiologist at the Hospital of Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children of Chicago assistant professor of pediatrics and medical education at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Sarah C. Bauer, MD, is a developmental pediatrician at the Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at Lurie Children of Northwestern.

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